Best Practices

Change Communications

5 biggest mistakes
Communicating major change initiatives to employees is one of the most critical functions that internal communications can fulfill — or not. In Tribe’s research with employees of large companies, 84% of the respondents said that change communications at their company were handled poorly.

At Tribe, we emphasize the importance of starting a change communications strategy from a place of respect for employees. We also stress the value of tying the change back to the company vision, and engaging employees in the roles their jobs can play in making the change a success.

Besides the obvious mistake of not being honest with employees about bad news, we’ve also seen a number of other missteps that can be avoided with a bit of forethought. Here are five that we see as red flags:

Creating a vacuum for the rumor mill to fill

Sometimes company leadership will prefer not to communicate about a change. Maybe they think that if they don’t talk about it, the change will be invisible to employees. But when change is afoot, word tends to leak out. And in the absence of reliable information from corporate, what employees imagine can be much worse than the reality. You can leave it to the rumor mill, or you can loop employees in and be part of the conversation. Either way, in most cases you can safely assume that employees are talking about the change.

Not prepping managers to handle questions

It’s great to have major change initiatives announced by the CEO or someone else in a top leadership position. But you can count on employees turning immediately to their direct managers with questions and concerns. Prepare your managers with talking points and FAQs, at a minimum. For a change that’s likely to raise concerns and anxiety for employees, you might want to invest the time to educate and train managers ahead of the change. Employees will feel less anxious when they’re getting the same key messages consistently.

Not providing a feedback loop

Managing change communications effectively includes engaging in a two-way conversation. Give employees at least one channel for sharing questions, concerns and comments. Sometimes we recommend two types of feedback channels: an employee survey or even a pulse survey to help management see where there are burning issues (and give employees a place to vent and let off steam anonymously) and a public forum, such as a town hall or the intranet, for employees to ask questions and have them answered by the CEO or another top executive.

Leaving out non-desk employees

True, it’s more difficult to reach all those employees who aren’t sitting in front of a computer. But unless you’re dealing with a change that will only affect employees in corporate positions, you’ll need to find a way to communicate with employees on the manufacturing line or sales floor or hospital unit, or wherever your people are working. Keep in mind that these are often the people who create the brand experience — because they’re the ones making the products and providing the services that deliver on the brand promise.

Not creating excitement about the future

While it’s certainly important to communicate the logistics of the change, don’t forget to focus on the end result — the positive benefits this change will bring to the company and to employees. Be sure to highlight how this change ties back to leadership’s vision, and how it aligns with the company values. You can also engage employees in how their individual responsibilities will contribute to achieving the change and to the long-term success of the company. And change also brings about opportunity, so remind employees that this could be a chance to develop their own careers.

How can we help?

Tribe does internal communications – and that’s all we do. We’re a full-service shop, from audits and strategy to creative and production.

Steve Baskin
President and Chief Strategy Officer
Office: (404) 256-5858
Mobile: (404) 663-7910
[email protected]